To usher in the Christmas season, my husband and I just watched the 50th Anniversary of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the night after Thanksgiving with three of our children who were home. Even though I have probably seen it at least fifty times, its appeal is not lost on its viewers. As all of us know, the Grinch comes to the realization that Christmas, “came without ribbons, it came without tags, it came without packages, boxes or bags… maybe Christmas means a little bit more.” That it does… Christmas means a lot more but in most of our homes it does come with the ribbons, the tags, boxes, gift giving, lights, trees, etc that are all part of the festiveness of the season. I think the secret is in giving meaning to those traditions that have evolved, creating your own traditions that integrate into the essential elements of your to-do list and giving credence to their origins and controlling them so they do not become THE center of the season. So how does one accomplish all of that? Sounds like a tall order when there are already so many things to do on our to-do lists at this time of year.
I have always tried to accomplish the above by sitting down with a cup of tea, preferably in front of a Christmas movie late night and orchestrating a schedule of events that are integral to the month of December. Things like; getting the Christmas tree, shopping together as a family one day during the season, wrapping the gifts, activities that involve charity or the church, invitations that we have received, school events that are going on, family gatherings that we already know about and traditions that we carry out year after year. I then go through each idea, looking at time constraints and deciphering what is essential and what is not. Based on that info, I chart each of the above on our central calendar.
We then talk about this as a family to see if anyone has any other suggestions besides what is on the calendar. These days are not set in hard stone, more like sand because our schedules can shift and if we hold fast to it, than it sets me up for frustration. Have you ever made lists to only cross off two things on it by days end, when you thought you would cross off at least half? I NEVER do that! In the younger years of our family, I would take this calendar a step further and add theme days to it based on the elements of Christmas where a fun activity could be added based on that theme. We still do this but in a more limited way.
The days can be based around charitable activities that are available in your community. Here are some examples:
1. Angel Day~ attend the Cradles to Crayons Big Give and pack up clothes and toys for them
2. Elves Day~ Operation Shoe Box ~ Pack up shoe boxes that are going to children in third world countries. There are drop off spots in various locations and typically your church
3. Carolers Day ~ sing Christmas carols at a nursing home
4. Santa Day ~ Operation Santa where you donate toys to those whose houses Santa cannot get to. Make a shopping day of it. There are opportunities to “adopt” a whole family where you provide for their needs for their Christmas celebration, from the meal to the gifts.
5. Nature Day ~ Make a tree for the birds where you cover pinecones and orange slices in peanut butter and roll in bird seed. Hang on a tree in your yard where the kids can watch the creatures come and eat.
The days can be set so that they accomplish a ” task” on the To-Do list. Cover them in fun and they seem much more appealing to the kids and you just might create a memory instead of doing it “all yourself.”
1. Shrek the Halls ~ Watch this program on TV and then have the kids decorate their rooms. Provide them with past items they have made in school or a small artificial Christmas tree.
2. Christmas Tree Day ~ This one is fairly obvious! Pick out your tree as a family and or decorate tree on this day. If they are little make Christmas tree toasts out of a piece of bread you have cut out with a cookie cutter and then toasted. Spread with cream cheese that you have dyed green. Add edible decor if you want!
3. Elves Day ~ Have each member of the family pick their elf (another member of the family) and focus in on that person during the Christmas season by leaving them little treats, doing a chore for them here and there or a kind act. Coordinate this with heading out to shop together to cross off people on the gift list.
4. Let Light Shine Day ~ Have the kids assist in putting Christmas candles in the windows and talk about the light of Christmas.
5. Card Writing Party ~ Set out all the Christmas card materials on your dining room or kitchen table and let kids assist in stamping the cards, putting address labels on, signing them, sealing them…heck…they are so technologically advanced, have them create your Christmas card address list on the computer and have them print the envelopes! (this I have yet to do) Provide popcorn and tasty treats.
Some of the activities are just plain fun!!! Books can be the impetus for these activities as well. I STILL set up this shelf with Christmas books that we have collected over the last 25 years. Last year it sat here for half the year… Yes, it is not visited as nearly as often as it was years back but it can jog a memory or two. My young adults and teenager still grab a book or two that launches them into a “remember when” conversation which always involves laughter…a big positive! I have loved books since my childhood and every year we cull through them and donate ones that do not create those memories. I also stash away a book or two for each of my children that are their favorites that will mysteriously appear as they have their first children.
1. Candy Cane Day ~ Watch the Legend of the Candy Cane or read the book, eat a candy cane or two or dip them in chocolate to save to serve on Christmas day or hot chocolate day…another option.
2. Santa Day ~ Make a big production out of writing their letters to Santa and bringing them to the mailbox. Visit Santa at the mall.
3. Gingerbread Day ~ Read Jan Brett’s The Gingerbread Man (her illustrations are awesome) and make a gingerbread house! If you are not up for baking the entire frame of the house…I never have… there are kits available at various craft stores and Clay’s Bakery in Berwyn PA has a beautiful already baked gingerbread house kit that you can order and pick up. Sometimes they even have them available if you just walk in. We have done this the past several years and it always turns out beautiful and is a lot of fun.
4. Stocking Day ~ Watch Santa Clause is Coming to Town or read about the origins of the stocking and hang yours all together.
5. Wreaths and Holly Day ~ Read a story about the origins of why we hang wreaths and what the symbolism of the evergreen is. Hang already made wreaths that you have purchased or make your own after gathering greens outside if available. Many homes have at least one pine tree in the yard that you can cut from to make one wreath.
6. Reindeer Day ~ Watch Rudolph or read the story of another reindeer and make reindeer food. This activity is so easy and we make it every year…now for the younger cousins.
Mix oats and glitter in a large bowl and spoon into brown lunch bags that you can decorate in whatever fashion you choose. Each child can take one home before or on Christmas Eve at your celebration. You can add a little card with directions alerting them to the fact that you put the glitter in with the oats so that when the moon shines on the glitter and makes it sparkle, the reindeer are attracted to the food.
7. Host an ugly sweater party ~ My brother and his wife came up with this new tradition last year and it was hysterical . I ordered a cake…again from Clay’s Bakery to bring to the festivities and everyone either pulled sweaters from their mom and dad’s collections or went to Goodwill to pick one up inexpensively. Some family members even stuffed their sweaters who shall remain nameless…
8. Look up local productions at the theatre events in your own town and put one on your calendar. There are often too many to choose and not enough time to attend them all so just choose one !
Most of the above mentioned activities are based on Christmas traditions that are non secular. Many activities that we plan encompass the reason for the season. We always do an advent wreath on our kitchen table and light a candle during dinner. Some years we read from an Advent book that we have gotten at church and some years we read from an inspirational book. This year we are reading from the following book:
It is a book filled with a story a day from December 1st through Christmas. We take turns reading paragraphs and then talk about what we have read. When you decide on an activity like this, let me reiterate… be flexible! We do not always have the time to sit down together for dinner, so sometimes the book is read at breakfast or lunch or while we are standing around in the kitchen. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss days, just skip them and go on to the next day.
Advent Calendars are one of my favorite ways to keep track of the December days and activities that wrap you in the spirit of the season. I have used all shapes and sizes from the paper ones where you open a window for each day (I still have some of my child hood ones), Lego Advent calendars,
Chalk Board Advent Countdowns,
and the kitchen counter and various candy assemblages.
Other ideas include:
1. Paper bags labeled with each day of December where I hand wrote cards to insert in each day with the activities on them.
2. Store bought calendars
3. Envelopes that the kids open once a day with handwritten cards in them outlining activities
4. When the kids were very little, we set up the manger without baby Jesus or the wiseman in it. We put them far away from the manger in the same room and each day moved them a little closer so that they ended up in the manger on Christmas Eve. You can also start with an empty manger and add a blade of straw a day into the manger and say a blessing or a prayer for each blade that goes in.
5. Advent garlands that you tuck little treats into, one for each day.
The opportunities are endless…the inspiration is limitless! I began these traditions to celebrate my love of the Christmas season and to hopefully pass on that love to my children as it has been passed down to me. I have found out through the years that planning is integral in many aspects of life and this is no different. Instead of Christmas “happening” to you…you make it happen and steer it into the direction you want it to go focusing in on what is important to you and by creating moments and memories. Go easy on yourself, you cannot do it all, nor will you! When I was the busy mom of a younger family, I had no way to document those memories except for my Kodak camera. As the Grinch might have said under those circumstance, “It came without Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It came without hashtags, the perfect shot and organized shoots.” Sometimes I think this is both a blessing and a hindrance. I certainly was not planning those activities to “post” them but I have very little to look back on except for the minds eye. Hmmm….fodder for another post! In closing, set goals that are attainable,
Celebrations are of your own making, may yours be full of heart, meaning and FUN!